Curing cancer is still the holy grail of health care. Unfortunately, there is no perfect cure for every cancer in every patient. That drives the interest in alternative treatments — those not approved by the FDA that replace traditional treatments (chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.) Alternative treatments range from drugs to diets to salves to teas.
The FDA maintains a list of 187 fake cancer cures at www.fda.gov, and has been warning consumers about online cancer scams for years.
The National Cancer Institute has an entire division devoted to complementary and alternative medicine at www.cam.cancer.gov. Complementary therapies are things like yoga and diet that enhance traditional cancer treatment but don't replace it.
On the website there is up-to-date information on the latest alternative cancer drugs and treatments. Some are currently being studied (antineoplastons), some are banned in the United States (714-X), and some have been proven not to work in humans (Laetrile), according to the institute.
Alternative treatments flourish because patients can lose their judgment when faced with a cancer diagnosis, said Dr. James I. Bicher of the Bicher Cancer Institute in Los Angeles.
"They are scared, and for a very good reason. Cancer is a horrible disease,"Bicher said. "Some people try everything under the sun. Patients go to Mexico and all over for miracle cures. We are getting pretty good at spotting the side effects from these."
However, sometimes treatments once considered alternative are proven to work and eventually become mainstream, after passing clinical trials and receiving FDA approval.
Hyperthermia is one of those. It is the use of targeted heat to kill cancer cells. Radio waves, microwaves, ultrasound waves and other forms of energy can be used to heat a tumor. "People in the Unites States these days want holistic things, and heat is a natural force," he said.
Bicher is a pioneer of hyperthermia. It received FDA approval in 1984, and he has been using it to treat cancer at the Bicher Cancer Center ever since.
Bicher says the advantages of hyperthermia include milder side effects and higher survival rates than with traditional treatment alone enhanced results — all of which are backed up with research published in peer-reviewed medical journals.
Hyperthermia works particularly well on tumors that are close to the surface of the body, such as head and neck, breast and prostate tumors, Bicher said.
Meanwhile, he warns patients not to make themselves sicker with unproven alternative therapies.